August 2010 Issue
Rock the Vote
Warren honors suffragette Harriet Taylor Upton.
The parlor at Upton House features a painting of Harriet Taylor Upton.
A cozy nook where the suffragette plotted strategy
The library is filled with volumes about women's rights.
Upton House china is emblazoned with a "Votes for Women" message.
The Upton House is an educational center for all ages.
It's safe to say that if it weren’t for Harriet Taylor Upton, more than half of us wouldn’t be where we are today. For it was Upton, one of Warren’s most revered daughters, who helped lead the fight to give women the right to vote. The fruits of those labors were rewarded with ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
“She was a natural-born leader,” says Elizabeth Cole-Clark, unlocking the front door to 380 Mahoning Ave. NW, where Upton lived from 1873 until the early 1930s. The former dwelling is now a National Historic Landmark and education center. “Harriet’s initiative was sorely needed. Back then, a woman was considered to be at about the same level as a prize cow.”
Clark, 84, is past president and head of education for the Upton Association, an organization dedicated to preserving its namesake’s memory and sharing her story. With a twinkle in her eye, Clark brooks no nonsense when it comes to talking about the history of women’s rights. A former junior-high-school teacher in the Howland Local School District, she’s a pro at making history come alive for all those who stop by Upton House each year –– and that includes the 1,300 students who visit annually on field trips.
Sitting in the parlor, surrounded by furnishings from the Victorian era, Clark paints a verbal portrait of what life held for women over much of the last two centuries: How Abigail Adams, wife of second President John Adams, unsuccessfully lobbied for a Constitutional amendment to grant women the right to vote. And how, during the Civil War, they plowed the field, provided the food and tended the wounded.
“When the war ended, women fully expected to be given the right to vote, since many of them had actually fought and helped bury the dead,” Clark explains.
Instead, they watched as the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to former slaves and the 15th Amendment granting all men the right to vote were passed.
“Understandably,” Clark says, “they got mad.”
Born in Ravenna in 1854, Upton came of age as American women began seriously organizing to fight for their rights.
“As a very young girl, I first realized the difference in the positions of men and women,” she noted in her memoir, Random Recollections
, most recently published in 2004. “Of course I did not get it that clearly nor in that language. My grandmother used to work all day. I have heard my father say that he never remembered getting up in the morning when she was not ahead of him, or going to bed at night when she was not still working at something. … One day, after dinner, when [my grandfather] was thus getting ready for a nap, I called grandmother onto the side porch and made her lie down on a settee. … I issued an order ‘After this, when grandfather rests, you rest. ’Taint fair.’ She turned her face partly away from me, but soon I saw a tear roll down her cheek.”
When Upton’s widowed father, judge Ezra Taylor, was appointed to Congress in 1880, she accompanied him to Washington, serving as hostess and companion. Upon meeting noted women’s activist Susan B. Anthony –– and with the support of her husband George, a prominent attorney –– Upton committed herself to the cause. She served 18 years as president of the Ohio Women’s Suffrage Association, 15 years as treasurer of the National Women’s Suffrage Association and was a founding member of the National League of Women Voters.
The Washington Pos
t praised her resolve, proclaiming, “Mrs. Upton is without a doubt the best liked and wisest suffrage worker in the country. Always in times of stress, the other state leaders have to call on Mrs. Upton.”
With 19th Amendment success secured, Upton devoted herself completely to serving her hometown. She founded and presided over the Warren Chapter of the American Red Cross and was the first woman elected to the Warren Board of Education, where she served for 15 years. Following her husband’s death in 1923 and with the onset of the Great Depression, Upton fell on hard times. She relocated to California, and lived with a cousin in Pasadena, until she died in 1945 at age 90.
“Harriet never gave up,” Clark says admiringly. “And neither did the women who worked alongside her. They gave their own money and invested their own lives for what they believed in.”
That endeavor is spotlighted throughout the Upton House –– from the china emblazoned with “Votes for Women” to the laudatory letters from Calvin Coolidge and Warren G. Harding. “I have no doubt,” then-Senator Harding wrote Upton in 1916, “that the time is reasonably near at hand when your fondest dream will be realized.”
As Clark walks though the dining room in which the suffragette entertained a cavalcade of presidents that included James A. Garfield, William McKinley and Benjamin Harrison, she reflects on what Upton’s legacy has meant to the generations that followed.
“In my day,” Clark says, “women had four choices after they graduated from high school: They could get married, become a nurse or be a schoolteacher or secretary. And that was it.
“Isn’t it amazing,” she adds, “what our girls are doing today.”
For more information, visit uptonhouse.org.